This book explores the “meaning” gap between architecture and design’s potential for social good and the ruthless commercialism and consumerism that serve as the context for the professions.

For a long time design has been positioned as an engine for consumer-driven economic growth, which has crowded out other meaning for the professions. This book explores ways that designers might close the meaning gap, particularly in the context of long term sustainability.

In high income countries like the US or the UK, economic growth and consumerism constitute one of the biggest obstacles to real sustainability. The book uses a number of design examples to map out how consumerism shapes design and how design shapes consumerism and then to show how designers are responding to these economic pressures.

In terms of consumerism, the book frames the four main challenges of consumerism and shows how designers are responding.

For example, one key challenge is that consumer society makes privately gained, instant rewards, ever quicker for individuals to access through cheap purchases—cheap food, cheap clothing, cheap gadgets—even cheap buildings. As this cheap reward cycle speeds up, so does consumption. So the book charts a lot of ways that designers are attempting to slow the pace of rewards in satisfying ways.

In terms of activism, the book shows how design activism makes use of the five main social movement methods, such as organizing or mobilization. These all have their purposes and none is inherently better or worse. They need each other to work well and that is the nature of social movements. The book gives you dozens of examples of how design projects use the portfolio of social movement methods.

There’s also a chapter that analyzes how these methods and tactics have the capacity to build power to bring about change, even despite their low budgets. The chapter maps this potential for power using many examples from across the lifecycle phases of designed artifacts, such as ideation, fabrication, use, and end-of-life.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Design activism, movement society and a post-growth scenario
An explanation of how the book is situated within the fields of design, social change, and steady state economics

Chapter 2   Design in the shadow of the rise and fall of growth
Unraveling four key problems stemming from consumerism and growth

Chapter 3   Design activism confronting economic growth
Design activist responses to the four problems of growth and an examination of the measurement problem

Chapter 4   From here to there, sketching a sustainable economy
In a sustainable economy there is probably a need, alongside the market, for other institutions of value creation and exchange

Chapter 5   Picking up moves from social movements
How methods of social change from conventional activism explain design activism

Chapter 6   Political power on a budget
Learning about activist capacities for building power and how design makes use of them

Chapter 7   Speculating on the steady state scenario
Thinking about three possible organizing principles (that replace consumerism and growth) for design work in a steady state economy

Chapter 8 Conclusion
Reflecting on directions for further exploration